Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Vision #10

Warning: This is a long email about why I am reading the Da Vinci Code.

My children read it a couple of years ago and asked me to read with them. I just wasn’t that interested at the time. So I kept putting it off. I should have listened to them. It would have prepared me for the spiritual storm that the book has birthed. So last week, I read the special edition of US News about the book. (I want to be able to sniff out the philosophical and religious opinions that form the foundations for the story.)

Many of the ideas behind the story revolve around a belief that the church has brutally suppressed ancient documents and ancient faiths. Thus, a new school of academics, social engineers and apostate church leaders speak in glowing terms about the worship of the nurturing, earth-friendly, female deities of ancient peoples and the wholesome, liberated attitudes toward sexuality that they encouraged. In fact, we are to believe, early Christians, including Jesus himself, were most likely influenced by the beautiful, ecstatic and nurturing priestesses of these old orders. (The idea of Jesus being God is an invention of the nasty old church fathers.)

This is where Mary Magdalene comes in. She becomes the perfect candidate for creating a new icon to reshape Christianity into something more compatible with the old goddess religions. In the newly reshaped faith, the saint becomes not a loose woman redeemed by grace but rather a “temple prostitute” (though that term is an invention of sex-hating male church leaders) who possessed a secret knowledge about how to lead people to encounter the divine through sexual experience. Her famous anointing of Jesus becomes an erotic gift that initiates Jesus into his work as a spiritual leader. Their union becomes a primal fertility rite to bring healing to the human family.

Of course, we are to believe, these roots of our faith have been ruthlessly supplanted by male church leaders at war against sexuality and feminine power. (The adoration of the Mother of Jesus doesn’t count. Her Virginity is a problem for people wanting to revive fertility religions.) Thus, there was a plot from the very beginning of the faith to keep Gnostic scriptures out of the New Testament, to demonize sexuality, to suppress knowledge of Mary Magdalene’s real role, to foster the doctrine of original sin, to emphasize the bloody notion of atonement through the cross, and to get all hung up on the belief in a physical resurrection. These were all deliberate, insidious, hateful notions fostered by power hungry people to keep Christians ignorant about the history of their own faith. The Church Councils are the dreadful events where the suppression became institutionalized and which all denominations have supported since.

am old enough to be shocked that intelligent people are taking any of this seriously. They are, however. So many Christians are alarmed that people are rewriting their faith. Then again, Christians have been chipping away at their own spiritual structures for several generations. We were told that we didn’t need to learn doctrine – that was just old, stale, pseudo-intellectualism. We didn’t need to linger in prayer – people were too busy. We didn’t need much Bible teaching – what we really needed was a Jesus bowling league and God loves you tee shirts. We didn’t need to prepare our hearts for communion – just pass those convenient flip-top juice and wafer thingamabobs in the last five minutes of the Sunday Jesus show – after all the important events. We didn’t need to know the history of our faith – better to talk about relevant things like the Desperate Housewives instead of Susanna Wesley. We have bought the lie that we would become more relevant by taking more and more of our faith less and less seriously. We have sown to the wind; we are reaping the whirlwind. Our loss of the sacred has made us captives of the profane. So why are we shocked?

The truth is, being a Christian involves the intellect as well as the heart. Many of my good Christian friends disagree with me about this. They are wrong. We are ill prepared for the cultural attack upon our faith because we have been intellectually lazy. That’s why we respond with anger and fear. So we call for boycotts. We call for picket lines. We call for believers to write Hollywood. Then we are dismayed because none of that works.

A few weeks ago, I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It is about a real trial of a Catholic priest who attempted to exorcize a young lady tormented by evil. The prosecuting attorney was a professing Christian. He was appalled at the medieval barbarism that was, after all these centuries, still pretending to represent his faith. The defense attorney was an agnostic. The trial was really about whether Christians comfort themselves with a harmless set of myths or whether they really believe that evil exists and is at war with Christ and His church. Like the Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Di Vinci Code exposes this difference of opinion. The exposure makes many believers very uncomfortable..

The Da Vinci Code is a good adventure story. It is, in many ways, much like Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, it resonates deeply with themes that our contemporary culture now offers as ways to reshape our faith. It resonates with that culture for the same reason that The Passion of the Christ repulsed it. The architects of secularism demand the right to define the terms and to write the history. They are not happy when people in the “flyover zones” do not comply with their agenda. So Di Vinci Code is good; Passion of the Christ is bad.

Well, anyway, I am going to read the Di Vinci Code. After that, I am going to teach what Gnosticism is, how the canon of scripture was formed, why the creeds are important, why ancient Jews and Christians rejected fertility rites and paganism, why writings like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas were never considered scripture, why Jesus died and resurrected in a physical body, and why Christians must reclaim their love for knowledge and study. Study is an essential ingredient in authentic revival and we desperately need revival.

A vision for revival and renewal cannot be defined then as a call for retreat into blissful ignorance. Revival is not an orgiastic escape into sentimentality; it is a quickening of our being – body, mind, soul and spirit. It is not an abandonment of life; it is a retrieval of a forgotten piety that can rekindle life. It is not a severance of our spiritual root system in an attempt to become relevant to a culture that is quickly becoming anti-Christ; it is the bold embrace of eternal truths that transcend culture, time and space.

So perhaps the Di Vinci Code will become a gift to American Christians. Perhaps it will cause us to realize that no matter how enthusiastically we throw away our hymns, crosses, religious language and antiquated ways in order to be relevant, the emerging culture will never be satisfied until we have thrown away the Christ as well.

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